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Adventure, Travel / May 28, 2017

Scotland’s 5 best adventures

Written by: Molly McCowan

Scotland is an adventurer’s dream: it has some of the planet’s most pristine wilderness, hiking and mountain biking trails galore, some of the best whisky in the world, a fascinating history, and castles.

The land of the Gaels offers a lot of adventure options. But these five are the best.


1. Backpack the West Highland Way

The 96-mile West Highland Way is the best-known hiking trail in Scotland, starting in Milngavie (just north of Glasgow) and ending in Fort William, the “outdoor capital of the UK.” The route can be hiked in about a week.

Along the way, hikers see some of Scotland’s most beautiful countryside, complete with sloping mountains, huge lochs (lakes), heather-covered hills, furry Highland “coos” (cows), and breathtaking views. The trail winds alongside the UK’s largest body of water, Loch Lomond, and its tallest mountain, Ben Nevis.

Hikers who aren’t into camping can stay in B&Bs along the way. Most of these businesses will also help hikers transfer their packs from town to town.

2. …or the Great Glen Way

The Great Glen Way is another fantastic walking tour of the Highlands. Clocking in at 73 miles, it departs from Fort William and heads north to Inverness. The trail runs along the Great Glen fault, which created the long line of gigantic lakes and mountains in the region.

Less traveled than the West Highland Way, Great Glen offers incredibly scenic views without the crowds. It passes through charming small towns like Fort Augustus on the banks of Loch Ness, where hikers can stop and watch boats go through a series of locks as they travel the Caledonian Canal.

A portion of the Great Glen Way is featured in Walking Connection’s self-guided seven-day walking tour.

Scotland's most pervasive wildlife: the furry Highland "coo". Photo by Molly McCowan.

The West Highland Way cuts through the wildest areas in Scotland and passes high peaks like the Buachaille Etive Mòr (pictured here). Photo by Molly McCowan.

3. Take in the Isle of Skye

The Isle of Skye, just off Scotland’s northwest coast, is one of the most ruggedly beautiful places on Earth.

The island’s most famous hike is to the Old Man of Storr: a stone pillar that overlooks much of the island. After the hike, head north up the coast to check out the Lealt and Mealt waterfalls, which run off sheer cliffs into the ocean below.

Dunvegan Castle, with its Secret Garden-esque grounds, is another worthy stop on the Isle, as is Eilean Donan Castle—the most photographed castle in Scotland.

The Isle of Skye is featured in our favorite tour of Scotland: Walking Connection’s nine-day tour of the Scottish Highlands.

On the way to Skye's Old Man of Storr, hikers enjoy panoramic views of the island. Photo by Robbie Shade.

Eilean Donan Castle is rightly the most-photographed castle in Scotland. Photo by Molly McCowan.

4. Mountain bike Cairngorms

Cairngorms National Park has a little something for everyone. Summertime visitors get to partake in its world-class rails, hidden lochs and waterfalls, and sand beaches (bet you weren’t expecting that!). In the winter, thousands of people flock to the park to see the Northern Lights and experience some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the UK.

But the best way to see the natural wonders of the park is on a mountain bike. Rent a bike in any of the park’s small towns—Aviemore and Glenlivet both have good rental facilities. Then, pack a picnic lunch and head out on a strenuous, 26-mile loop, starting at Aviemore and taking the Speyside Way to Boat of Garten, then over the Ryvoan Pass to Glenmore and back to where you started.

Tired of adventuring? Cairngorms National Park is also home to another type of trail: the Malt Whisky Trail. Slàinte!


5. See the castles of Edinburgh (duh)

The castles in and around Scotland’s capital aren’t exactly off the the beaten path, but they’re worth sharing with the crowds.

By far the most popular is Edinburgh Castle, which has overlooked the city since the 12th century AD. From here, travelers generally walk the old city via the “Royal Mile.”  At night, local guides offer ghost tours through the city’s abandoned vaults (the best are found in the South Bridge neighborhood).

Just north of Edinburgh is Linlithgow Palace, whose roofless ruins contain an enormous grand hall and some of the biggest fireplaces most travelers have ever seen. To the west is Stirling Castle, a formidable hilltop fortress with panoramic views.

Trafalgar’s seven-day Best of Scotland tour kicks off with two nights in Edinburgh.

The rugged terrain of Cairngorms National Park is best seen on foot or by mountain bike. Photo by Thierry Gregorius.

Edinburgh Castle has looked over the eponymous city since the 12th century. Photo by Craig Cormack.

Featured photo by John McSporran. 

Do you have questions or comments about this piece? Email them to [email protected]

about the author

Molly McCowan

Molly McCowan is a professional writer and editor based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. Her love for travel sees her globe-trotting whenever she can, and she seeks out experiences that are off the beaten path so she can immerse herself in new cultures. She speaks fluent Spanish, so she’s almost always planning a trip to somewhere in Latin America. She also lived in Spain for a while, and backpacked across Europe on a shoestring budget. She hikes, camps, goes four-wheeling in her old Jeep Wrangler, and fly fishes in the mountains of Colorado regularly.

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